A Sign of the Times: Durham’s Manual Scoreboard

Ivy watches the game through the scoreboard. Photo credit Margaux Hunter.

COMMUNITY

 by Lauren Baddour

Chris Ivy, 74, sits on his perch, peeking out through an empty hole in the Durham Bulls’ scoreboard. To his left, tiny voices come out of a small TV, narrating the baseball game happening on the other side of the wall. The crowd roars and he jumps to his feet, swapping out scorecards embellished with large white numerals.

Ivy has been in charge of the manual scoreboard of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the past 16 years.

“It’s fun just to hear the crowd get into it,” Ivy said. “Weekend games are really a lot of fun. The more people the better.”

Photo by Margaux Hunter.

Most sports fans are familiar with an electronic scoreboard. It’s lit up in bright lights and is controlled remotely with no delay. A manual scoreboard, on the other hand, relies on someone to place each number in a window by hand for the crowd to see.

Nearly every stadium in the country used manual scoreboards before technology advanced and it became cheaper to go digital.

“I think it’s just reflective of the old past and keeping a part of the past going,” Ivy said. “Especially now, baseball has had a lot of changes coming around. I think people like to see some of the old stuff hang around.”

An Entire Story

Growing up in upstate New York, he traded baseball cards with his cousins and played sandlot ball. He admired the professional ball players and dreamed of being a part of their organization someday. But, by the time Little League rolled around, Ivy realized he wouldn’t make the cut. Rather than call it quits, he taught himself how to score a game.

He learned that one scorecard is an entire story, showing triumphs, failures and epic battles between batter and pitcher. In his notebook he keeps all of these stories, waiting for the day somebody, maybe his granddaughter, will ask to hear them.

Ivy points to a date on his handwritten scorecard. Photo credit Margaux Hunter.

He held onto his hobby of scorekeeping throughout grade school and college before joining VISTA, where he met his wife, and then turning to a career in social work.

“I wish I had known people could make a living out of (scorekeeping), it seems to be a natural sort of thing for me,” he said.

As a social worker he helped dozens of people turn their lives around. One of them later tracked him down in a grocery store to thank him for his service.

“He’s got this very compassionate side to him that maybe people don’t always see,” said Virginia Ivy, Chris’ wife.

“Mayor of the ballpark”

After discovering an opening for manual scorekeeper at a job fair, he made the ballpark his second home, and its people his second family. His commute from the parking lot to his office can often take several minutes, as Ivy makes it a point to stop and chat with everyone, or hand out an extra ball to an unsuspecting child.

Photo by Margaux Hunter.

His reputation for friendliness earns him lots of visitors: kids, families, entire youth baseball teams, maybe even a wayward Savannah “banana ball” player looking for shade.

Ivy is shown with three Savannah Party Animals, rivals to the Savannah Bananas, baseball’s equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters. Photo credit Chris Ivy.

“He’s sort of the mayor of the ballpark, I think of him that way,” Virginia said.

It can be easy to doubt the true impact of a manual scoreboard on a baseball game; after all, there are plenty of computers available to do the job, including a digital scoreboard that operates in addition to Ivy’s manual one. But Ivy knows a human touch is better.

A few years ago the electronic scoreboard was out of commission for several games, meaning the entire stadium was reliant on Ivy. Midway through the game an outfielder became disoriented and lost track of the count. He turned to ask Ivy a question that would make anyone who knows him laugh. “Is that scoreboard right?”

A Family Affair

While Virginia isn’t exactly a fan of baseball, she appreciates the beauty of scorekeeping. After learning this skill from her husband, she was called upon when Ivy had an injury limiting his range of motion. In an attempt to help with the more physical aspect of the job, Virginia found herself peering out of a tiny window, shaking with nerves and thinking to herself that the entire stadium would know if she made a mistake. As the first pitches let fly, Ivy started

moving as if a puppet on a string, delicately placing numbers in the correct spots to record hits, runs and errors.

“I wasn’t really any help to him at all, I could lift the numbers for him but that was about it,” she said.

Now one of Ivy’s favorite perks of the job is bringing his granddaughter, 5 year old Georgia, to sit with him during the season. Watching Georgia hold up her stuffed Wool E. Bull to the window so he can see the game reminds Ivy what this is all about.

“I think it sort of brings the community together for certain,” Ivy said. “You’ve got the whole community typically behind your hometown team”.

Georgia Ivy holds a small Wool E. Bull up to a crack in the scorecard to watch the game. Photo credit Chris Ivy.

Sign of the Times

In 2021, Major League Baseball (MLB) moved to reduce the number of affiliated Minor League Baseball teams from 160 to 140 in order to increase the salaries of remaining players. MLB effectively took over all merchandising, broadcasting and sponsorship rights while splitting revenues down the middle with minor league clubs. This emphasis on the bottom line has left an undercurrent of change with no guarantees for the future. Ivy, who plans on sticking around for

at least a little while longer, says he was promised a return for the 2024 season, but hasn’t heard anything beyond that.

“I don’t think it’s in the cards to change to a digital (scoreboard) any time soon,” Tony Riggsbee, PA announcer for the Bulls, said.

Bulls’ fans appreciate their stadium’s nostalgic element, and consider it a unique local quirk. Should the fate of the manual scoreboard come into question, Ivy is locked and loaded with “Save the Manual Scoreboard” t-shirt prototypes already drawn up.

For the past 16 years, Ivy and the board have been partners in crime. They’ve seen it all: wins, losses, injuries and celebrations. The pair stand the test of time. Even so, Ivy’s wife notes that he’s 74 years old, and not getting any younger. But, his legacy is one that will remain for much longer.

“People come up to me in restaurants and say, ‘you took me and my kid back there five years ago and he still talks about it,’” Ivy said. “So in my mind that will perpetuate my legacy a little longer.”


This article was provided by UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media Department

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